Leading through fiscal uncertainty: Fort Bragg community prepares for pending sequestration
March 8, 2013
As of March 1, the federal government began operating under the rules of a Washington-mandated period of sequestration. This plan for cutbacks is also expected to include a 22-day furlough for 8,500 of Fort Bragg's civilian employees, which means as much as a 20 percent loss in wages for the post's civilian workforce.
For the civilian workers, the furlough would begin during the week of April 21 and is expected to end on Sept. 30 and would affect many of Fort Bragg's operational facilities, including childcare and the commissary, for at least one day of each week.
"This is a complex issue and folks want to try to talk sequestration in terms of someone flipping a switch and you're going to have a measurable degree of darkness on February 28 and March 1. That's just not the way it's going to occur," explained Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commanding general in an interview Feb. 28. He compared the sequestration to the sun advancing across the sky.
"You'll notice changes over time. We hope that the duration is not such that the effects become really, really obvious, either to our Soldiers or to our Families here on Fort Bragg," Allyn said.
He acknowledged that because of the projected cutbacks and minimization of the work force, the post cannot continue to perform all of the missions and provide the services with a significantly reduced amount of money.
"There will be changes. I think the most apparent to our Families in the near term will be reduced access to services. For instance, if the furlough goes into effect, in the mid to latter part of April, the immediate effect in terms of (Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation) services and Army Community Service programs would be 20 percent less access because those are largely provided by government employees who would now be furloughed one day a week," Allyn said.
He said it's important to inform the community so that its members will know that on certain days, these services are not available. Allyn pointed out that no particular day has yet been set as the "off" day for the workforce.
"What we hope to do is align our furlough implementation across Fort Bragg in a way that enables us to continue to meet the mission and mitigate the effects of a furloughed population," Allyn said.
He added that from the garrison commander Col. Jeffrey Sanborn's perspective, the post must also consider how effective it would be to furlough everyone on the same day. Allyn said that while furloughing the workforce on the same day would allow the garrison to shut down offices and save on utilities (Fort Bragg spends between $30 to 40 million in electricity annually), the savings would only be a small fraction of what the post could save by more effective conservation of utilities.
He said he realizes the impact of sequestration and the possible furlough.
"I'm not understating the impact," he said. "When you can no longer depend on access to services five days a week, that's going to cause us to change how we do business and it's also going to require a lot more communication with the folks that we take care of here at Fort Bragg."
He added that it's important that leadership around post has an understanding of the impact of the change and is able to communicate its requirements to the force.
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, has stated that the Army is going to "lead our way through this fiscal uncertainty and not manage our way through it."
"We have to balance sound business decisions with taking care of our people that we have a sacred trust with and we're committed to doing that. Our communication across the senior leadership of Fort Bragg has been very significant as we've identified these issues," Allyn said.
The goal is for the post to continue operations, while mitigating sequestration effects on the community.
"Our goal for the trooper in the 82nd Airborne Division or any of our formations here on Fort Bragg is that six months from now, they will say, 'Sequestration? What is that?' At the individual Soldier level, they should not notice this affecting their training and readiness."
Allyn said sequestration should have minimal effect on training as the ammunition is already paid for. But added that some things may change, such as conducting physical training or foot-marching to the ranges to fire their weapons systems.
"It's a cost-effective way to train," Allyn said. "The ammunition is already paid for and the ranges will remain operational, albeit we may have some adjustments in how we continue to do that. But the paratrooper is going to be able to be proficient with his weapon system, be physically ready and his unit will be ready for the assigned mission that it has."
"The entire 82nd Airborne Division will not be trained to the same level. That is a major change in how we've always approached our mission here at Fort Bragg," Allyn said, pointing out a key change.
The Global Response Force Brigade will be fully trained and it will be ready for deployment, adding that if a brigade does not have an assignment, they will conduct training at the squad level and below. They will not be doing collective training, until they get to an assigned mission, Allyn said. He added that an extended sequestration period could definitely affect Fort Bragg's readiness in the long run.
"There will be an eroded level of readiness in time and there will also be a longer period of time to restore their full mission capability once the resources are re-allocated, depending on how long this period of fiscal uncertainty lasts," Allyn explained.
According to Sanborn, the challenge for Fort Bragg is trying to determine how to continue operations with limited personnel. This is especially true when it comes to childcare.
"A furlough means we're going to have to shut down child development centers on a given day of the week," Sanborn said. "So we're working through the details on what the appropriate day of the week is to minimize the impact on the community as a whole and how that fits into this overall "smart" furlough plan," said Sanborn.
The schools will also be affected and require close coordination to mitigate any negative impact.
"We're in close coordination with the DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) folks here, Dr. Emily Marsh (superintendent, Fort Bragg Schools) with regard to what their plans are for the furloughs in the school. But I can assure you, on behalf of Dr. Marsh, that in the end, as a result of whatever furloughs they have to do, our children will meet the requirements for North Carolina and federal education standards for this year and next," Sanborn added.
The cuts would also affect operations at Womack Army Medical Center as patients can expect to see a slight reduction of service, but an increase in wait times at the facility.
"Most visible will be a longer wait for non-emergency appointments," explained Col. Frank L. Christopher, deputy commander for Clinical Services.
"Womack will protect programs involving behavioral health and the treatment of combat-wounded Soldiers and the readiness of deployable Soldiers," Christopher added.
Allyn said the post remains committed to taking care of its Soldiers and their Family members, despite the uncertainty that looms in the near future.
"We will work together to ensure that the cuts that we have to make are in the programs that have the least impact possible. We're not going to be funded for the level that we have been accustomed to over last decade and we will have to reduce some of the services that we have here," he said.
"And we will maintain our commitment to take care of our Families and our Soldiers in a manner commensurate with their service and sacrifice to the nation as we have committed," Allyn said. "We will maintain our readiness to deploy our forces and our commitment to train them for deployments."